Why Chinese People Wear Masks During the COVID-19?
As we can see from the guidance provided by the CDC, individuals who are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 are not suggested to wear masks.
However, as seen on the internet, many Chinese people still wear masks when going outside during the outbreak. EnvGuide(https://us.envguide.com/) in this article will summarize the reason for that.
Different “Mask Culture” between China and US
There is a big cultural difference between China and the United States with regard to wearing masks. Americans wear masks only on the advice of doctors. However, as for Chinese people, after SARS in 2003, one of the most severe respiratory infections in the last 20 years, heavy haze and the bird flu, “wearing a mask” has become a common phenomenon in China. Chinese people choose to wear masks when they cough, when people around them cough, when there is haze outside, and even when they have allergies. They think wearing a mask is a simple and feasible way to protect themselves and others.
Figure 1. Chinese people wearing masks to prevent heavy haze (Source from huiyuelectric.com)
Masks production is high in China
In addition, it is important to note that mask production in China is very high, accounting for half of the world’s mask production. In 2019, the production capacity of masks in China was about 20 million per day. The total production volume of masks in the China Mainland exceeded 5 billion. Surgical masks accounted for 54% of the total.
Figure 2. China’s production line of respirators（Source from World Journal）
According to the China National Development and Reform Commission, after the COVID-19 broke out, China produced a total of 116 million masks a day as of February 29, 2020, 12 times more than on February 1. The daily production of N95 masks has also reached 1.66 million, effectively meeting the protection needs of frontline medical staff in China. As Chinese people have enough surgical masks, they can somehow wear certain masks to prevent droplets flying and floating in the air, which is recommended by Chinese Government.
Figure 3. China’s production line of surgical masks（Source from www.ixxww.com）
Chinese government and scientists recommend the public to wear masks for protection
After the COVID-19 outbreak, confirmed patients in China were quarantined in medical facilities, the close contacts were quarantined at home and the rest of the people were advised to wear surgical masks when they go to public places. The Chinese agree that surgical masks are less effective than N95 respirators. However, having all other asymptomatic people wear surgical masks largely prevents droplets from remaining in the air, thereby reducing the spread of the virus during incubation period. The incubation period of COVID-19 is generally 3 to 7 days, up to 14 days. Individuals under the incubation period can transmit the coronavirus, which has been verified by the treatment process in China, and in many other counties. In many Chinese cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, the government requires companies to provide surgical masks for every employee used for protection, and does not allow companies to resume work if they cannot.
Figure 4. On February 10th, the employees in Guangzhou wore masks to go back to work after the Spring Festival, and the stuff took their temperature at the entrance of the building （Source from www.chinanews.com）
Chinese epidemiologist, Zhong Nanshan, who discovered the SARS coronavirus in 2003, suggested that people in China wear surgical masks for protection against COVID-19. Zhong said that this virus can be transmitted through droplets, and if used properly, a surgical mask can at least help block the larger droplets that come from sneezing and coughing. Normally, droplets containing the virus from a cough or sneeze fall onto the surface of an object and a healthy person touches the surface, picks up the virus, and then touches their nose and eyes, causing the respiratory infection. The surgical masks can also prevent wearers from touching their nose and mouth.
Figure 5. A man wearing a mask rode his bike on a street in Milan, Italy. A total of 10149 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Italy as of 18:00 local time on March 10 (Source from www.news.cn)
However, we may find that masks are out of stock in the pharmacies for several weeks in United States. Masks are mostly made in other countries and the supply chain has been disrupted, and they don’t have enough surgical masks for exporting. Therefore, in United States, it may not be effective for the public to wear masks, we have to leave the remaining surgical mask and respirator stock for the medical workers.
The recommendation for what we can do for now is to wash our hands frequently, clean and disinfect surfaces and objects we often touch (the coronavirus is easily transmittable, disinfectants are highly effective at killing this virus on surfaces), try not to touch our eyes, nose, and mouth outside without washing our hands, and try not to get too close to others to prevent contacting their droplets.
Please don’t panic if you see people wearing masks during the epidemic, most of them are not ill and just try to protect themselves and the others. Don’t panic, be rational, and protect yourself!
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